As Ned Stark once remarked before losing his head with the most tenuous of links to metal “winter is coming” (and if that is still a spoiler by this stage then get with the pop culture times). There’s a distinct chill hanging in the evening air around Tufnel Park’s The Dome venue and something with which only heightens the anticipation for the evening’s festivities. It’s a line-up to warm the cockles of purveyors of technical metal, and it is this that the gathered masses use to stave off the oncoming British winter. That and the beer blanket. Bring the noise!
Opening bands lead something of a tough life – they’re required to warm up a crowd that will often be largely disinterested, scarce, sober or a combination of all three. Make the effort, and it can feel like an exercise in futility; half-arse it, and you’ll be found out by the earlybirds. Not that either of these are a worry for Reading, Pennsylvania’s Rivers Of Nihil. There’s already a very healthy crowd gathered to herald their debut in the capital of these shores and their set goes down a treat. Blending cuts from their excellent debut ‘The Conscious Seed Of Light’ and their astonishingly resplendent sophomore ‘Monarchy’, they tear through their set with aplomb. Wicked, flaying riffs and tight rhythms melded with ripping leads and gorgeous detours into post-rock; it’s progressive death metal at its finest and these chaps are staking a strong claim to being the genre’s newest leading lights.
Following on from their American brethren’s debut in London, comes Canada tech metallers Beyond Creation. With the crowd loosened up and strongly amassed, the tech levels jump up a notch-or-two. The riffs are fretboard gymnastics personified – with cuts like “Coexistence”, “Earthborn Evolution” and “Theatrical Delirium” demonstrating a how-to guide in making any string-bothering musician feel wholly inadequate. Taps, slaps and pretty much every technique under the sun are utilized to devastating effect with the crowd drinking it in and marveling at the spectacle. It’s a delight to see guitarists Simon Girard and Kévin Chartré, and bassist Hugo Doyon-Karout letting fly with riff after riff in perfect synchronization, whilst drummer Philippe Boucher holds the fort with flurrying blasts. An impressive debut bow from these Canadians.
Revocation follow and, once the overwrought sound check is completed (apparent issues with the band’s in-ear levels seemingly the cause), they don’t hold back. If anything, the anticipation that built whilst the levels were set heightened the pay-off when they eventually began the set – David Davidson et al. have the crowd eating out of the palm of their hand. “Dismantle The Dictator” whips up a frenzy in the pit that reaches fever pitch upon the epic “Madness Opus”, whilst “Scorched Earth Policy” brings the fiyah. There’s even time for a little humor in the form of the “wizard fingers” – waggling one’s fingers to demonstrate technical prowess on a guitar. Davidson remarked how the tour features “super technical death metal wizardry” and there is absolutely no shortage of that here, with a heady mix of the Boston-natives’ back catalog to whet the appetite.
The esteem with which Germany’s Obscura seem to be held in the room is almost hallowed. Latest album ‘Akróasis’ received acclaim when it dropped earlier this year and with the fevered excitement in the room for their arrival, the band would be forgiven for being nervous in delivering. Yet veterans such as themselves know no such thing any more and blast into a ferocious set, drawing heavily on their fourth opus. Among the plethora of tracks from their career, highlights of the night include: “Akróasis”, the epic “Sermon Of The Seven Suns” and “Perpetual Infinity” all make an appearance alongside the gut-busting “Anticosmic Overload” from 2009’s ‘Cosmogenesis’. It’s furiously performed and stirs the crowd so much, a select few take the opportunity to attempt stage diving (attempt being the operative word – the hilarity of seeing a failed dive is something that just needs to be seen). It’s clear that the crowd had fun and so too did the band – their joy at performing the music they love to the people they love is demonstrably infectious.
Obscura mainman Steffen Kummerer quipped that the tour would go down as one of the world’s “shred fests”, with the potential for the “most notes ever”. Without access to the sheet music for each act (or some form of note counter), that particular record may require the folk at Guinness World Records to decipher. However, what’s easy to decipher is the quality of the show on offer and it’s about as good a technical death metal gig as you can get. There’s enough variety on offer, with Rivers Of Nihil’s penchant for a post-rock adventure, Beyond Creation’s technical wizardry, Revocation’s blind fury and Obscura’s mature, refined death metal mastery ensuring the ears aren’t exhausted before their time and the creeping chill of winter is kept at bay for a little while longer.